Melina’s Fresh Pasta has supplied our city’s pasta lovers with unique Southern twists on traditional Italian fare for more than a decade
By Megan Tillotson | Photography by John Michael Simpson
Carmella Alvaro Reamer grew up in Liverpool, New York, in a traditional Italian American household. She was the first in her family to be born in America. Her parents, Giuseppe and Giuseppa, sister, Rita, and brother, Rocco, were born in Calabria in southern Italy.
“[My childhood] was great, and I am thankful for it every day,” Carmella says. “Growing up, my Italian community was strong at the time, and every holiday and personal milestone was celebrated with lots of people [and] huge tables of food – all homemade.”
She moved to Raleigh in 2010 from the Washington, D.C., area and “started the business in a little apartment kitchen,” Carmella says. She operated as Melina’s Italian Kitchen until 2011, when she decided to fully focus on fresh pasta. She then changed the name to Melina’s Fresh Pasta, which stems from Carmella’s family nickname, Carmelina. In 2012, she decided to settle her home and business in north Durham, operating out of her 400-square-foot garage until she was able to move into a commercial building. She shares that home with her husband, Billy Reamer, whom she married in 2019, and their new rescue pup, Bruno. “Petting [Bruno] and telling him how handsome he is for 30 minutes every morning [cuts] into my pasta-making time,” Carmella jokes.
Carmella opened a storefront for Melina’s Fresh Pasta in a quaint, homey building on Chapel Hill Road in December 2017. The floorplan was designed to be an open concept so that people could see the pasta production in action and feel more connected to the process. “When I was younger, I would spend Saturdays going to the local Italian butcher to get meat, then to the Italian bakery to get cannoli [from the baker], Nunzio,” Carmella says. “That personal touch was lost for a while, but local food made such a comeback that owning a local pasta shop made me feel a connection back to the times when everyone knew the names of everyone who made their food.”
The busiest mornings in the shop are Wednesdays and Thursdays – Carmella and her employees start at 7 a.m. to prepare pasta dough and fillings. Once the ingredients are ready to go, they use small presses to make the ravioli. The remaining dough is thinned out and cut into pasta like fettuccine and linguine. The other days of the week, staff make other products like gnocchi, lasagna and sauces. “It really is a team effort,” Carmella says. “There were a few weeks where I was doing a lot of this myself because it takes time to train people.”
Carmella’s creative flavors and combinations have become regional favorites and award-winning foods. In 2021, Our State awarded the Made in NC award in the food category and overall to her pimento cheese ravioli, which graced the cover of the magazine’s February 2022 issue. “I was happy when it won this award since it was such a perfect combination of my Italian culture and my new home,” Carmella says. “It was one of my favorites, but people were hesitant to try it.”
Carmella not only crafts pasta, she writes about it, too. “I was approached to write a pasta-making cookbook, and since I was unsure if we would be able to stay open at the start of COVID-19, I agreed,” Carmella says. “It was a lot of fun, and I even wrote a second book focused only on stuffed pasta.” Her two cookbooks, “Authentic Homemade Pasta” and “Homemade Ravioli Made Simple” are available on Amazon and at the pasta shop.
When she does find some free time, Carmella spends it cooking for friends, hiking and traveling. But those moments have been few and far between during the pandemic. “The last two years we saw an increase in business due to people cooking from home,” she says. “Things are starting to calm down, and a goal for me this year is to get more balance and be able to do things we like to do.”
Carmella expects a continued slowdown as people start dining out at restaurants more frequently, but she doesn’t currently have plans to expand the brand further. “We became known throughout the state for our pimento cheese ravioli and had a very busy few months,” she says. “We turned away a lot of business due to [our own] capacity [limitations]. I want to stay at a size where I can still keep the quality the best it can be without having to compromise to grow. … We love selling directly to our customers and working with local businesses like Weaver Street Market and the Durham Co-op Market, and we plan to continue that.”
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